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Contract Advice for the Self-Employed

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

If you are self-employed you've probably already discovered that there is a lot to do and you could use some help with basic contract issues. Maybe sometimes you imagine that if you had a legal team, everything would be easier.

That might be true. But there are quite a few things you can do on your own -- and times when it is right to decide not to do much. Knowing the difference will make your working life easier. Here are a few tips on what problems to handle, how to handle them, and how to figure out when a problem is too big to handle independently.

No one -- not even a lawyer -- can or should solve all of their own legal problems. But developing a sense of what you could do for yourself and when to get help will mean that you allocate your precious resources appropriately.

  1. Get It in Writing: You don't need to have a formal contract for a court to recognize that there was a deal. But a good way to prevent having your matters end up in front of a judge is to get all agreements in writing. Say you met someone at a conference or on a golf course and you informally agree to do business. Don't start on anything until you have confirmed subsequently that the deal is on and that all parties understand its terms. Even if all you do is send an email confirming your understanding of terms, you already have a reliable reference point or basis for discussion should any disputes arise in the future.
  2. Letter-Writing Skills: It's time to polish up your letter writing skills and start sending mail. When you are in a dispute with a client or customer and they are refusing to pay you money owed, don't blow off the debt because you can't afford to sue. Do write a strongly worded letter that is polite and insistent and advise the client that the next missive will be coming from a lawyer. You don't necessarily need to take legal action in order to inspire payment but you can show that you will. If your letter is insufficiently convincing, have a lawyer write one for you. This will cost much less than hiring counsel to file a lawsuit and allows you to strongly insist in the most convincing fashion possible.
  3. A Good Loss: It's not easy to admit this at first, but even when you are right, not every contract battle is worth fighting. As someone who is self-employed you need to be careful about how you allocate precious resources, including time, energy, and money. Some customers or clients will be extremely adept at shirking debts and you'll have to decide how much energy to expend on a losing proposition. Because lawsuits are expensive and complicated and not a sure bet, you must develop the ability to assess true costs for yourself. The faster you cut your losses in these situations, the less you will lose.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you are self-employed and have legal concerns, consult with a lawyer. Get guidance and advice. Many attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to talk to you about your situation.

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